Panellists Clare Stearns, Sarah Brennan and Lindsay Varty provide insights into how they navigated around obstacles on the road to success
By Heather Diamond
This enjoyable and entertaining event, held at the FCC on 20 February 2020, showed that although our three panelists work in very different genres, their experiences have been similar. Clare Stearns runs a theatre company and writes plays based on the hidden histories of women. Her upcoming play, Mussolini’s Mistresses, opens in Hong Kong in early March. Sarah Brennan is the author and publisher of 16 children’s books with the best-selling Chinese Calendar Tales as well as other popular books. She is now writing children’s books about Chinese history. Lindsay Varty is a former professional rugby player and a writer whose recently published coffee table book, Sunset Survivors, is filled with photographs and interviews of Hong Kong’s vanishing traditional tradespeople.
In answer to questions posed by moderators Suzanne Andrews and Leslie Hobbs, all said they started with more inspiration than information, but they gathered momentum, wisdom and expertise by reaching out to others and building a network of professional connections. They all admitted they had made mistakes along the way, unrealistic expectations and deadlines being among the most common.
Lindsay, the youngest member of the panel, talked about the challenges of family expectations and self-doubt. Sarah discussed overcoming the stigma of self-publication and the need for accuracy, even in children’s books. She stressed that critical scrutiny is unavoidable if you are an outsider writing about someone else’s culture and history. Clare emphasized the need to get past awe of the literary canon and create room for yourself. They agreed that writers have to learn to stop self-censoring and benefit from learning to listen to feedback.
Writers and aspiring writers who attended went away rewarded, feeling less alone with the challenges of creative work and a lot more inspired to persevere in the process.
We thank all members who supported this event, despite the coronavirus, to provide a great turnout, and the FCC for looking after us so well with delicious individual small eats and a good bar.
I’m just popping in before we officially celebrate The Year of the Rat to give you an update on that which has past and is to come!
Monthly Informal Get-together
Held at Club 71, Hollywood Road, this monthly gathering is attracting a good number of members in a very cosy grove-like setting. Our next drinks are on Tuesday, 4 February. This time, those of you who may be interested in starting up a critique group in a reciprocal read-and-write arrangement are also encouraged to attend for an initial discussion. Don’t feel you have to join, just come and have a chat regardless.
Our second official WiPS event ‘Are you Stuck?’ will take place on Thursday, 20 February in the Hughes Room, FCC. We will advertise this shortly on Facebook and our website. Since we have just the five events up to November this year, please make an effort to bring a friend and attend as your patronage at four of the five events will ensure we stay buoyant as a society.
‘Are you Stuck? – Mistakes I Made; Lessons I Learned’ Come and be inspired by our three savvy, successful panellists who survived the challenges of the writing, publishing and marketing processes. Sarah Brennan – author and publisher of 16 children’s books, including the best-selling Chinese Calendar Tales; Suzanne Harrison – journalist and editor who recently signed a publishing contract with UK’s Legend Press for her work of fiction, ‘The Colour of Thunder’, a contemporary thriller set in Hong Kong; and Clare Stearns – playwright and professional theatre director speaking about several original plays re-interpreting the lives of famous writers from the female perspective.
The annual Imprint Launch is on Friday, 24 April in the Hughes Room, FCC. A splendid affair always, we look forward to seeing as many of you there as possible. And for those who intend to advertise in Imprint, please be advised that the date for final submission of advertisements has now been extended to 7 February with artwork to be provided by 20 February. If you know of a potential advertiser, please email Polly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At our recent committee meeting, we decided to offer members a new feature on our website to support their work. I will update you with details as we progress on this, but essentially it means that you will be able to showcase your published material along simple set guidelines.
Social Media Co-ordinator
Jo Farrell has resigned from the WiPS committee and from her role as Social Media Co-ordinator to concentrate on her professional photography business. We are most appreciative of all the time and effort she has given to develop our Social Media and also for initiating the monthly Informal Get-together. We wish her the very best for her future endeavours.
A new Social Media Co-ordinator has recently taken up this role and we look forward to introducing you to Tiffani Ren at our Imprint launch. You can expect to see posts on Facebook shortly.
A gentle reminder to those who have yet to renew their membership for 2020, please do so soon!
To our members both in Hong Kong and abroad, enjoy a splendid Chinese New Year holiday or offshore celebration! May this ratty year of the vital and intelligent rat, match the intelligence and vitality of all you illustrious, industrious women!
Tanya Singh is the creator of NAARI magazine. Her career began right after she completed her majors in advertising, marketing and public relations in 1995. Her first venture was with Magna Publishing, a prestigious group in India producing many high-end magazines, including Savvy, Society, Interiors and StarDust. This began her fascination with the media world, since when she has grappled with many projects in the print and television industry, gaining insights into the nitty-gritties of its workings.
Her husband’s job brought the family to Hong Kong in 2010, but with two small kids she didn’t find life easy here on her own. It took them a while to settle in to the local culture, but Hong Kong is a dynamic society and before long they understood that it suited them well! At that point Tanya started the second innings of her career by joining a magazine. She managed its business for three years, during which time it edged its way into the main league in the world of print media in Hong Kong. Some lucrative business offers followed and Tanya became known among the who’s who in Hong Kong’s Indian community.
However, keen to do something of her own, she settled on the idea of creating a lifestyle magazine for the woman of today, which she called NAARI, to cater to women across all communities. Her aim with the magazine is to give readers exclusive and exciting articles, news and information, with an emphasis on women as a whole rather than just their bodies. Tanya looks forward to seeing it prominently placed in exclusive prestigious outlets. Sitting down to write this bio about herself, she says, gives her immense pleasure to be a part of WiPS and to meet so many women from whom she can learn so much.
Very warm Christmas cheer to each and every one of you lovely ladies!
Jason Ng, our Truth & Memoir panellist, said that parents worry about their children until the ripe old age of 99 years. “It’s a son’s job to tell his dad he’s alright!” So too for all you daughters out there: tell your mum, your dad, your aunt or relative you are with this Christmas, that you’re doing okay, and WiPS is, too. And remember to pack that extra copy of Imprint 18 for that special Christmas gift. If you’re staying in Hong Kong, Skype and FaceTime work their magic effortlessly.
Three months ago, WiPS was on the verge of folding. It is now upright and active. This is because of a good deal of faith and fellowship from those who continue to support us. “Thank You” to those who could attend our Call to Action and Truth & Memoir events. We ask now that everyone makes a commitment to attend 4 out of 5 functions in this next year. This way the events will be successful and WiPS will prosper.
During Truth & Memoir, Heather Diamond, Gillian Bickley and Jason Ng, all spoke of their experiences visiting past haunts to help their writing. If you have started a memoir or been thinking about it for ages, why not pick up a notepad and pen and revisit your past. It might be a street, a park or even a room if the family home is around. Nostalgia is a Christmas thing after all. Even if it’s a day out all alone to focus on that Christmas Slice of Life passage or a Work in Progress, try it!
You may also wish to look at Google Docs, recommended by Jason as being commonly regarded as the easiest and most reliable place to save your work. Pete Spurrier, our fourth panellist, suggested: “Every author should have a blog.” I’ve used Wix.com and found it great to navigate. Other bloggers I’ve watched on YouTube also recommend WordPress.com, which has been around for longer. Something to think about or take action on perhaps. But just remember, as Gillian said: “You can’t do anything else when writing a book.”
If you need a good read to help you unwind this Christmas, check out Jason Ng’s latest publication Hong Kong Noir, Pete Spurrier’s Serious Hiker’s Guide to Hong Kong or Gillian Bickley’s The Golden Needle.
I thank all of our committee members: Polly Yu, Carol Dyer, Heather Diamond, Connie Lee, Jo Farrell and Sandra Gibbons for their generous gift of time, helping us to grow.
Soak up all the love and laughter you can this Christmas. It starts with you and bounces right back.
Authors Heather Diamond, Gillian Bickley, Jason Ng, and publisher Pete Spurrier share their insights on memoir writing with WiPS
By Michele Koh Morollo
Organized by the WiPS Committee, Truth & Memoir, took place on the evening of 10 December, at the Hughes Room in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. The event generated a buzz and excitement and was well attended by members of the Hong Women in Publishing Society and a number of guests interested in memoir writing, who got the chance to mingle with the speakers and each other over drinks and canapés before and after the talk.
Heather Diamond, author of “American Aloha: Cultural Tourism and the Negotiation of Tradition” read excerpts from her work in progress – about her cross-cultural marriage to a Hongkonger – demonstrating the importance of humour in memoir.
Gillian Bickley, a poet, writer, editor, publisher, and writers’ mentor at Hong Kong Baptist University and HKU Space, discussed her research methods for “The Golden Needle” – her biography of Hong Kong pioneer educator Frederick Stewart – disclosing how much patience and tenacity is required for the task of life writing.
Jason Ng has published four non-fiction books and is presently working on the biography of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, which will be published by Penguin. He talked about the rigours of his work process, and through reading an excerpt about his relationship with his mother, revealed the powerful way that memoir can foster intimacy between writer and reader.
Pete Spurrier, founder of Blacksmith Books has published numerous memoirs. He shared his experience with the audience and gave them tips on how to best prepare their works for submission.
Thanks go to Jo Farrell for spearheading the evening’s organization. Those who attended left with a better understanding of how to find their voice and their truth in writing, and hopefully, many will now be ready to begin telling their own life stories.